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Lord Hokage

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The Rookie 9 surprised the Jounin that were watching the Chunin Exams when they exited the Forest of Death in perfect battle formation. Naruto was ensorcelled in the middle of the other Genin, his unruly blond strands making him stand out clearly. The teachers found it a little odd that all the clan heirs were protecting the Kyuubi container and were discussing the topic amongst themselves when a sudden motion from down below caught their attention.

Sakura, Hinata, and Ino all quickly opened two scrolls and summoned their Jounin-sensei from where they had been lounging on top of the tower. The older shinobi appeared with a poof of smoke, only to be greeted by flaring chakra from all of the waiting Genin and a picture-perfect defensive formation. Once more the Jounin were surprised to see the way that the eight other Genin moved to protect Naruto as if it was habit, as if the blond was the most important one there.

The Genin reluctantly parted at an unseen signal to reveal Naruto, who began to walk forward. The jinchuriki was suddenly flanked by Sasuke and Sakura on his right and Shikamaru and Hinata on his left, the four other shinobi almost moving quicker than the Jounin could see. The five advanced almost as a unit and stopped close to their shocked teachers, obviously waiting for acknowledgement.

“Teams 7, 8, and 10 pass,” Kakashi finally managed to say as he looked over the assembled Genin from behind his usual Icha Icha. He didn’t think that his team had enough teamwork to pull something like that off, much less the whole of the Rookie 9. He’d have to keep a close eye on his team, make sure nothing untoward had happened to them in the Forest of Death. Kakashi’s eye suddenly caught on a complex piece of sealing on Sasuke’s shoulder, something so complicated that he could only make out a couple of the seal components, all of which had something to do with restraining power. He would have to look into that as soon as the first round was over and he could steal Sasuke away for one-on-one training – there was no way that Sasuke wouldn’t pass the first round of elimination fights. Naruto and Sakura might not pass, but it was virtually impossible for Sasuke not to advance to the second round.

“Barely,” Kurenai commented with a subtle frown. That behavior wasn’t normal for her team, especially not the way that Hinata was moving confidently and Kiba was clearly deferring to Naruto. Last time she had seen her team the Inuzuka had displayed challenging body language towards the Kyuubi container and now he was treating Naruto like he would his mother, as if the Uzumaki was his Alpha. Thankfully nothing had changed in Shino’s bearing, although she could make out several of his bugs hovering around the group in a formation she hadn’t seen before. It wasn’t normal for the taciturn boy, as his bugs could get destroyed if his teammates weren’t careful, and she’d never thought of Shino as careless before.

“The Sandaime will be starting his speech in less than an hour. Follow me.”

The group of nine subtly rearranged themselves, Naruto simply walking forward as Sasuke followed and their yearmates changed positions around them. Sakura slipped to the left of Naruto and Shikamaru rejoined his team on Naruto’s right while Hinata slid back to her team on Naruto’s left and the three teams appeared to close ranks around Naruto.

That was an old war formation, Asuma noted with surprise. It was interesting that they’d chosen that formation because there was no way that they had ever been in a war – the last one was when Kakashi was a kid – and that formation was so rarely used because it required close cooperation between the teams and acknowledgement of their roles in the arrangement. The formation was often used for important frontline fighters, as it was designed so that the heavy hitters in a group could do their part without worrying about friendly causalities while the two following squads dealt with stragglers and extracted information from the defeated. It was clear that Kakashi’s team were the heavy hitters and the smoker assumed that his team would be extracting information while Kurenai’s team would deal with stragglers. Asuma gave a mental shrug; at least everyone knew their places in the shinobi world – it would prevent them from dying because they took on missions they couldn’t handle.

The formation changed once more when they arrived in the arena, this time resembling a formation several nin had performed in the past around various Kages. The way they arranged themselves simultaneously put all of the attention onto Naruto and allowed his eight person entourage to leap in front of him to protect him at any moment. The way they were focused on Naruto wasn’t exactly normal given their previous relationships with the boy and the kids shouldn’t have known that particular formation because it was only used by escorts around their Kages. It was a secure way of displaying power without some of the drawbacks of other formations and it also allowed the person being protected to defend themselves if something went wrong, a rare characteristic as most shinobi formations were meant to protect helpless clients. That was the main clue that the formation was used to protect Kages because no one wanted to limit a Kage’s battle power, not event to keep them safe.

The Sandaime gave the Konoha Nine a curious glance and seemed to communicate silently with their various sensei before quickly beginning his speech to prevent anymore last-minute entrants. The Hokage made a mental note to talk to those Jounin and Anko while he explained the purpose of the Chunin Exams. This time around the speech went uninterrupted as both Kiba and Shikamaru remained silent, already understanding the meaning behind the Chunin Exams.

As one the Rookie Nine shifted their attention to Kabuto when he began to speak, their faces disturbingly blank as they watched the white-haired shinobi resign from the Exam. Not even a muscle twitched out of place to reveal their emotions, something which attracted a lot of attention from the ANBU stationed around the Hokage. Several of the animal masked shinobi made mental notes to go talk to the white-haired Genin later, just to make sure nothing was wrong with him and ensure he hadn’t cast a genjutsu on the entirety of the Konoha Nine.

Naruto pulled Sasuke to the side and whispered something in his ear before letting his bodyguards arrange themselves around the balcony that the group had chosen.

“Try not to do anything too shocking, okay Sasuke?”

The Uchiha’s soft response was lost among the chatter of the other Genin on the stone balcony, Sakura and Ino arguing about Naruto’s hair while Hinata seemed to be comparing notes on senbon with Tenten. Kiba was munching on food with Chouji as their other two teammates stood next to each other in a corner calmly.

When Sasuke’s name came up against Akado Yoroi, the Uchiha gave a dark smirk before hopping down to the arena and almost mockingly waiting for the judge to start the match.

The minute that the other male began to move, Sasuke engaged him in taijutsu, being careful to keep their contact brief so that the other Chunin contender didn’t have a chance to steal his chakra. The dark-haired boy toyed with his opponent for several minutes in a beautiful display of taijutsu before Naruto’s voice obviously caught his attention and he sent several small fireballs to occupy Akado so that he could look up at the blond.

Naruto had a softly disappointed look on his face – almost, but not quite, reproving – and several of the Konoha Nine around him were basically glaring at Sasuke for upsetting the jinchuriki by messing with his opponent. The shinobi watching the fight couldn’t figure out why the group was so upset about Sasuke using the match as an exhibition of his skills, but they were too proud of their prodigy to worry about the odd actions of his yearmates.

The Uchiha looked away from Naruto with a soft “hn” and the people in the stadium watched in shock as shockingly blue lightning gathered around the hand Sasuke used to reach out and touch Akado. Several nin correctly assumed that Sasuke used the other Genin as a conduit for his lightning to reach the earth, purposely frying some of his opponent’s nerves in the process. The boy didn’t seem to have much control over his elemental nature yet, several shinobi thought with pride, but nonetheless, it was amazing that he could already manifest an element.

The careless elemental manipulation shocked the judge for a moment – that kind of stuff usually wasn’t taught until after the kids reached Chunin – before he managed to declare Sasuke the winner. The last Uchiha loyal to Konoha calmly sauntered up the steps to the balcony where the rest of the group was waiting before settling into a corner near Naruto. He made sure to ignore the way that Kakashi was trying to get his attention, subtly turning his body so that he couldn’t see his sensei.

The stadium was abuzz with reactions to Sasuke’s fight as the next set of names appeared on the board. Aburame Shino was to face Zaku Abumi, who happened to have one of his arms in a sling.

The second match of the Chunin Exams went by quickly, as Shino sent his bugs to drain Zaku immediately, bypassing the Sound nin’s revelation that he could actually use both arms. Zaku appeared to faint on his feet, quickly collapsing to the floor of the stadium as a large swarm of insects rose from the Oto Genin to smoothly disappear into the Aburame. The bug nin then calmly walked back up to his yearmates’ balcony and talked to Naruto, several of the Aburame’s small Kikai hovering around the blond before landing on his outstretched hands. The two Genin were quickly joined by Shikamaru, Sakura, and Sasuke for a quick discussion that several nin tried and failed to eavesdrop on. Those shinobi gave the group suspicious looks before directing their attention to the next match.

Kankuro vs. Tsurugu Misumi flashed up on the screen and the two Genin descended to the main floor of the stadium and began to fight. The balcony full of the Rookie Nine barely registered the way Tsurugu twined around Kankuro before the Suna Genin was revealed to be a puppet. Hinata, Sakura, and Ino took a cursory look while the boys were talking at the time Kankuro’s puppet disabled his opponent by snapping his neck, the boneless Tsurugu barely escaping the match alive. Everyone on the balcony directed their attention to the board as they waited for next two Chunin contenders to be announced.

When the words Haruno Sakura vs. Yamanaka Ino flashed across the screen, the two girls immediately hopped down from the balcony and settled into battle stances across from each other. They waited for the proctor to start the match before beginning to fight by engaging in a battle of legs as their hands began to glow with chakra. Both girls intercepted each other and prevented the completion of their opponent’s jutsu.

“Limits,” Naruto suddenly barked out across the stadium, shocking several of the other Genin and most of the shinobi present.

The fact that the two Genin in the stadium immediately disengaged and retreated to opposite sides of the ring was really what caught everyone’s attention. That two of the vessel’s graduating class would immediately stop fighting at his order was a little alarming, but the actions of the two kunoichi in the ring quickly occupied everyone’s thoughts.

“No super strength,” Ino said quickly.

That was interesting, as the Yamanaka had never been famous for strength…

“No torture techniques,” Sakura responded.

Ah, that made more sense, the Yamanaka were famous within the village for ending up in T&I. So did that mean Sakura had the super strength? If so, where did she get it from? The only person from Konoha famous for super strength was Tsunade and she hadn’t returned to the village in years…

The two kunoichi nodded at each other in acceptance of the limits, but didn’t reengage, instead looking up at Naruto for permission.

At the blond’s clear nod, the two kunoichi once more began to fight while the shinobi in the stadium pondered over their actions and conferred with their neighbors. The startling skill displayed by the two quickly recaptured their attention as Sakura used glowing blue chakra scalpels to fight against Ino’s intensely visible and flying chakra strings. Those were not Genin skills in any way shape or form. Inochi knew he hadn’t taught Ino chakra strings and as far as he knew, no medic nin had taught Sakura how to make chakra scalpels, so how the two kunoichi knew to form the two weapons was a mystery.

The way they were fighting would be more appropriate in a friendly spar between Jounin who shared similar skill sets for different purposes, Ibiki mused to himself. That would make sense in light of the earlier restrictions, as Sakura’s chakra scalpels and super strength were more suited to frontline missions where a medic would be useful and Ino’s chakra strings and torture techniques would be more useful in bringing back prisoners to extract information from them. It would fit with their teams, as both the Uchiha and Uzumaki were shaping up to be formidable frontline fighters while the Nara and Akamichi were more in line with capture missions. He’d have to see about recruiting the Yamanka girl for some practice after she lost the match, because if Haruno’s team was a group of frontline fighters and she regularly sparred against them, then there was no way Ino was going to win without torture jutsu. Sakura had the control to disrupt the chakra strings and would be more used to physical exertion from trying to keep up with her team, which in turn would give her a larger chakra capacity. And there it was, the torture specialist noted; Haruno had won by knocking out her opponent with what Ibiki presumed was a sleep jutsu.

The pink-haired girl woke her blonde friend up with green medical chakra shortly after she was declared winner and the two climbed the stairs of the stadium to rejoin the rest of the Rookie 9. They stopped near Naruto and seemed to listen to him as he talked to them, nodding every so often in understanding. The blond male seemed to end the conversation and the two girls went over to talk to Hinata and watch the next match between Temari and Tenten.

The Wind Mistress won hands down over Tenten, as the Konoha’s Genin couldn’t stand up to the Suna girl’s wind jutsu. The match ended with the Weapons Mistress draped over the business end of Temari’s battle fan and coughing up blood from the harsh treatment. Several nin noticed Naruto’s glare at the other blonde, but dismissed it as some sort of petty rivalry against another village.

Nara Shikamaru vs. Kin Tsuchi appeared on the board next and was another quick match, as the shadow nin went against his lazy nature in order to finish the fight as soon as possible. The Leaf Genin swiftly created an earthen spire right after Hayate formally started the match and used the shadows created by the spike in order to ensnare and knockout the Sound kunoichi.

Several people looked askance at the Nara boy, surprised that he could manipulate the earth when his clan was famous for manipulating shadows. That was another elemental manipulation they hadn’t been expecting to see and firmly placed the boy as a Chunin contender.

After he was declared winner, Shikamaru slouched his way back towards the Konoha Nine’s balcony at a slow enough pace to meet Naruto and Kiba as they walked down for their match after their names appeared on the screen. The Nara pulled Naruto aside for a quick conversation that barely lasted half a minute before the two loud Konoha Genin reached the floor of the arena.

The Inuzuka and Uzumaki squared off and Hayate announced the beginning of the match, but Kiba was noticeably hesitant to attack the blond. The other shinobi in the stands noticed and made mental notes of that fact before the conversation between the two Genin grabbed their attention.

“It’s just a spar, Kiba,” Naruto said with a smile. “I won’t be pulling anything out of the closet you haven’t seen before and neither of us will be using more than light techniques, right?”

“Right!” Kiba said with a laugh and a scratch to his nose.

Tsume frowned at the nervous relief in her son’s laughter, not exactly happy that he seemed afraid of what the dead last could do if Naruto got serious about the match. The pup shouldn’t have agreed to light techniques – but then again, evidently their version of light techniques was different from hers, as Naruto was spamming the area with orange clones and Kiba was liberally taking them down with Gatsuga. Tsume wouldn’t really consider that light sparring, but the two Genin didn’t seem to think much of it as Naruto captured Kiba and Akamaru in a trap that some of his clones had created in the blurry chaos of their earlier actions. Kiba forfeited with a loose laugh and a ready smile, easily bumping shoulders with Naruto as they climbed back to the balcony, their low conversation caught by several curious shinobi.

“You really need to pay more attention to your surroundings – that’s the fourth time I’ve pulled something like that on you and you didn’t catch it,” Naruto scolded the other boy.

“It’s not like anyone else could spam that many clones,” Kiba said with a roll of his eyes.

“Yeah, but they could send in enough ninja that you wouldn’t notice more shinobi setting the trap,” came the serious reply.

“At least I’d take the enemy down with me,” was Kiba’s answer to the challenging statement, an answer that Tsume approved. If you were going down then you took as many of the enemy down with you as possible in order to help your teammates live another day. That was Inuzuka pack mentality at its finest; if sacrificing yourself meant that the rest of the pack was better off, then that was what you did, no regrets.

“Yeah, but I’d rather have you alive to fight another day than the dead bodies of however many shinobi you managed to take down with you,” the blond said, his sad eyes prompting the Inuzuka to nudge his companion in the ribs and whisper something about Hinata that made the blond sigh and roll his eyes exasperated, the tension that was accumulating in his shoulders unconsciously releasing.

Naruto managed to have a quick conversation with Hinata after both her name and her cousin’s name came up on the screen. Neji almost seemed to strut down to the arena floor while Hinata softly smiled at the blond and floated down the steps to the floor, the air becoming heavier and heavier with moisture as she descended to the bottom of the arena.

Neji started the match with his traditional comments about fate and his hate for the Hyuuga Main House, but Hinata simply stood there with a calm smile as the air seemed to subtly shimmer around her, several Byakugan eyes seeing the near invisible haze of chakra hovering in the air around her form and the cold bright light of chakra condensed at her fingertips. The male Hyuuga finally decided to attack his cousin, but the smaller girl easily deflected the blows and startlingly refrained from counterattacking.

Hiashi looked disdainfully at his eldest daughter, simply seeing her actions as another failure – she could have ended the match in seconds by using the Caged Bird Seal, or baring that, the girl should have attacked the small openings that Neji still had in his form. This match proved it; Hinabi should be the Clan Heir, not Hinata – she was too weak to behave as a Hyuuga should. The older male ignored the soft way his eldest attacked and considered the slowing of Neji’s limbs as a Branch House weakness while he subtly remarked on the other male’s form to his youngest daughter.

Neji slowly began to pale and move slower and slower as the match went on, Hinata’s soft touches evidently having an effect on the other Genin, although no one in the audience could understand what she was doing because she wasn’t aiming for soft tissue or the traditional spots used in the Jyuuken. Eventually Neji stopped moving all together and simply fell over in the middle of the arena, Hayate waiting a few moments for the boy to get back up before declaring Hinata the winner. The dark-haired girl watched her cousin get carried out of the ring by medic nins before returning to Naruto’s balcony and holding a quick conversation with the blond Genin.

The words Sabaku no Gaara vs. Rock Lee came up on the screen next and the green-clad Genin jubilantly bounced down the stairs to fight his opponent, the redhead from Suna who shunshined into the ring with a swirl of sand.

Naruto’s chakra began to flare as soon as the redhead from Suna released his sand from the gourd on his back, causing several worried looks from shinobi in the stands as they felt a trace of Kyuubi’s malevolent chakra in the flares. As the chakra wasn’t doing anything, the majority of the shinobi transferred a large part of their attention to the match and watched at Gaara’s sand destroy Lee in the ring until the spandex-clad Genin dropped his weights and began to open the Gates. Gaara eventually captured Lee in his sands and began to use the Sabaku Kyu to crush his opponent.

A seemingly random flare of chakra from Naruto caused Gaara to pause just long enough for Gai to pluck his young student out of the sand right before the redhead crushed the other Genin’s legs in his jutsu. The Suna boy seemed to mutter something about “blood” and “mother” before eventually returning to the balcony he had been sharing with his siblings.

Accoding to the board, the next match was between the Oto nin Dosu Kinuta and Akimichi Chouji. The two opponents made their way down to the stadium floor in a timely manner and settled into fighting stances while they waited for Hayate to start the match.

The first thing Chouji did was pull the earth up around himself like armor and swing an oversized fist at the other Genin, quickly knocking him out and ending the fight before the other male could use his sound jutsu to disorientate the Akimichi heir.

.~.~.~.

“Ahh, Naruto, Sandaime-sama would like a word with you,” Kakashi said as he reached for the collar of Naruto’s jacket to stop the Genin from leaving the stadium only to find the boy protected by Sasuke and Hinata while Sakura and Kiba looked to be preparing to attack him.

“Okay,” the blond agreed with a shrug, turning to walk towards the Hokage Tower and ignoring his sensei, the other Genin from the balcony clustering around him in an apparently random manner as he talked with Sakura, Sasuke and Shikamaru. The Genin didn’t hop onto the roofs to travel, instead calmly walking down the road at a relatively even pace, even if it was slightly slow for a group of shinobi. The group reached the Tower and was ushered up to the Hokage’s meeting room, the Jounin making sure that their students weren’t imposters or assassins as they traveled up the Tower.

Naruto was flanked by Sasuke and Sakura on his right and Shikamaru and Hinata on his left when he entered the Hokage’s office. The jinchuriki immediately headed towards the chair in front of the Sandaime’s desk and pulled it further away from the desk before comfortably sitting down.

As soon as Naruto was settled Sasuke leaned against the right side of the chair while Shikamaru slumped on the left and the two girls casually rested their forearms on the back of Naruto’s chair. They made an intimidating sight as the rest of the Rookie Nine arrayed themselves around them, the group making sure that the only way to get to Naruto was from the front where the blond could see everything that was going on.

The pose of the first five seemed well-practiced to Asuma, too perfectly smooth to be spontaneous. The older male compared it to the way the Fire Daimyo’s guards had staged themselves when he was at court and sadly found that the Genin’s arrangement was better – it perfectly covered Naruto without the help of anyone else and simultaneously allowed the four to secretly advise the blond without leaving their posts. It was surprisingly well designed and they were scarily casual in the execution, intimidating the person Naruto was talking to without a second thought. The scariest thing was that they had done it even here in the Hokage’s office, as if the Sandaime was not their Hokage but a possible – probable – enemy.

Sarutobi noted the odd formation himself, a little surprised that the whole Rookie Nine had followed Naruto to his office when he had only asked Kakashi to bring him the blond. Of course the sensei had followed their students, and Iruka was in the room when Naruto arrived and wouldn’t leave calmly now that he knew the Hokage was talking to the Kyuubi container. Well, he could question the jinchuriki just as well with everyone else here as he could alone – it wasn’t like he was going to be asking invasive questions or anything similar. Still, the Sandaime made a discreet hand seal beneath the desk and sealed the room off from eavesdroppers, just in case something happened that he didn’t want anyone else hearing about.

“Naruto, what exactly happened in the Forest of Death?” the monkey summoner questioned calmly.

“Nothing much,” Ino replied for the other blond with a shrug.

“You’re not Naruto,” Iruka reprimanded the kunoichi.

“Nothing much,” Naruto answered, using the same shrug as the Yamanaka had. “There was this weird guy, then this creepy guy with a long tongue and the strange guy and his team who showed up before bushy brows and the pretty boy, then this dude with glasses and those other people who kept trying to hide behind the trees the whole time.”

“Names?” Kurenai prompted gently.

“Don’t know ‘em,” Naruto said with a negligent shrug, slouching a little further into the chair.

“As shinobi of Konoha you are required to tell your Hokage anything that might help or endanger the village,” Kakashi said with a frown, directing his comment to the whole group of Genin, but shooting Naruto a disapproving look from over his book.

“We do tell our Hokage everything,” Sakura said with a bright smile that she aimed at the adults in front of them.

“But you haven’t answered my questions,” Sarutobi pointed out shrewdly.

“Mendōkusei,” Shikamaru said with a sigh. “Our Hokage knows exactly how we got those skills.”

“Sandaime-sama does not know where, how, or from whom you nine received the skills you displayed in the preliminary matches of the Chunin Exam,” Iruka told the group with an impressive frown. If the Hokage knew then he wouldn’t have asked the Jounin-sensei about the Genin’s new skills or the children themselves.

“Whoever said it was the Sandaime Hokage?” Naruto said with a mocking little smile before he casually leaned back in the chair he was sitting in. Hinata reached a hand over and massaged the blond’s shoulder for a moment before resuming her previous stance and once more resting her forearms on the chair back.

Several Jounin sat back in shock at the Kyuubi’s container’s question and sank into their own private thoughts until the Sandaime Hokage himself managed to pose another inquiry to the Rookie Nine.

“Is it the Godaime then?”

Sasuke’s disdainful “hmph” in response to the question directed the attention of the room towards him before Sakura actually answered.

“No,” the pinkette said with a smile and a little laugh, “it’s not Godaime-sama.”

“The Rokudaime then?” Asuma questioned casually. If it wasn’t the Godaime, then logically they should be talking about the Sixth Hokage.

Kiba immediately bared his teeth in answer, a growl rumbling in his throat as Sasuke’s eyes flashed to bloody red of the Sharingan and Sakura cracked her knuckles in a menacing manner. Killing intent began to fill the room before being brought back under control, but just those few moments sent shivers down the backs of the older shinobi that were questioning the teens.

“Never the Rokudaime,” Hinata said in a hard, cold voice, the veins of her Byakugan bulging around her white eyes.

Okay, obviously not the Sixth Hokage then. The Godaime would have to be careful about who was chosen as their successor if they didn’t want a mutiny or an assassination on their hands, Sarutobi thought with morbid humor. He could definitely believe that this group would murder whoever took the hat as Rokudaime Hokage if they didn’t like them.

 “The Seventh Hokage?” Kurenai asked next, wary about provoking another rage in the group of Genin. She really didn’t want to repeat the experience. That had been a lot of killing intent for nine Jounin to produce, much less nine Genin – and the killing intent of nine children had been even worse than the one time she’d fought on the battlefield against Iwa.

“Does it really matter which Hokage?” Naruto said in reply as he stood up, sounding a little exasperated with all the questions. “They’re loyal to a Hokage and therefore they’re loyal to Konoha. That’s all that matters.”

“That is certainly true,” the Sandaime said with a smile for the blond. “Why don’t you all go home for the afternoon and I’ll send your sensei for you tomorrow before we have another meetings.”

Naruto nodded in agreement before turning towards the Hokage’s door, the other Genin gathering around him as he moved, showing Sarutobi a first-hand example of the formation that the Genin had used when they left the Forest of Death, Naruto safely protected in the middle of the group.

Once the Genin were out of the room, Kakashi looked up from his book and mentioned something he’d noticed about Naruto’s words.

“Does anyone else find it odd that Naruto said they were loyal to a Hokage and were therefore loyal to Konoha, not that they were loyal to Konoha and therefore were loyal to the Hokage?”

A look of dawning comprehension appeared over Iruka’s and Kurenai’s faces as they both reached the same conclusion.

“They’re loyal to their Hokage over Konoha,” Kurenai stated lowly, shock apparent on her features.

“They’re only loyal to Konoha because their Hokage is,” Iruka added softly, a stunned look in his eyes.

The Hokage, his three Jounin, and the lone Chunin spent some time thinking this over before the Sandaime suddenly looked up and spoke seven words into the silence of the room that shocked everyone present.

“Naruto said ‘they,’ he didn’t say ‘we.’”